I decided to throw myself into a solo exhibition after moving to a new part of the country as a way of meeting like minded people and hopefully making a few sales along the way. In the past I had hung small collections of work in local coffee shops and community centres where I used to live, but had never been brave enough to book a solo spot in a gallery space. Having seen our local museum advertising some available slots in their community gallery, I decided the moment was right, booked a three week slot for October and started to work on a greater master plan.
My summer months were spent weaving scarves and working on some new pieces of wool art as well as ordering stock of cards and other printed versions of my work. The gallery space I had rented was essentially the upper room of a very old cottage in the heart of Petersfield. A local artist, Flora Twort, had once lived there and the building is now a museum. The space is warm, light and bright, if a little off the beaten track.
As well as being the creator and curator of the show, I also had to become marketing manager and set about having flyers printed. I worked on my social networking skills to actively promote the show, took flyers with me wherever I went, tacking them to every notice board and asking various local shops to share them for me. Through Facebook I received lots of interested ’likes’ and ‘shares’ and hopes were high of attracting people from a good radius of the town. I wrote and printed a small brochure summarising the various aspects of my work and personally took flyers round to some of my new neighbours and friends.
Setting up my display took longer than I anticipated. Taking my entire stock out of the studio enabled me to see all of my work as a whole, rather than just a small selection on a table at a craft fair and making it work as a display was more challenging than I expected but eventually the scene was set. I had arranged to visit the gallery on a Saturday morning and a Wednesday afternoon over the three week duration to spin yarn and interact with visitors.
I decided against a preview night as being a newcomer to the area I don’t know very many people and did not want to put my new acquaintances into the awkward position of cornering them in the gallery to make them buy. An anonymous starting point was in some ways quite attractive.
The museum staff manned the sales for me and kept a count of visitor numbers. On the days I was there myself, I found it fascinating chatting to people. Most were coming to see my work because they are themselves artists or crafters. Many had picked up my flyer, or heard from a friend who had already visited and shared their enthusiasm at local textile groups. I explained the thought processes behind my larger wool art pieces with the aid of sketchbooks, demonstrated hand spinning and asked people about their own creative work.
On a busy session I saw maybe 10-15 visitors which allowed plenty of time to chat as well as to allow people to browse. I quickly learned who wanted to chat and who wanted to browse quietly. It became quite apparent that many of my most audience were not of the internet generation but were very keen crafters and artists. I found myself agreeing to give talks to embroiderers groups and WI ladies as well as giving workshops. I also found out about several local Christmas events through chatting and now have a full diary for the next few weeks.
My expectation of the show had been that I would sell maybe one or two larger pieces of framed artwork to people who had an interest in interior design, but in reality I sold vast amounts of small printed items, felting kits, scarves and handbags.
The biggest compliments were when someone told me they found my work inspiring and were going home to try something new themselves and networking with individuals was invaluable for gleaning local information about organisations and events.
Contrary to my expectation all of my efforts at advertising through the internet brought in only a handful of people. Old fashioned posters, flyer and word of mouth topped the list. As a newcomer to the area I had a completely fresh page to work from so very few people came out of a sense of duty and I know that most came because of a real interest in creativity.
So now my pictures are once again wrapped in bubble wrap, cluttering up my landing, and everything else is boxed up ready for the string of Christmas events. I feel I have introduced my work to my new home town and have the confidence to build on this starting point. New ideas are blossoming in my head and there is definitely a new energy to my work.
Learning from my first solo experience – top tips
- Plan your promotional material well ahead and have good supply of business cards as well as literature to tell people who you are.
- Arrange times to be there in person so you can engage with visitors and explain how you make your products – what seems obvious to you can be a revelation to somebody who is new to your work. Asking visitors about their own artistic leanings can open up interesting opportunities for further networking.
- Try to arrange your work in a way which leads the audience through the room – this is quite difficult to do when you are more used to setting up a single table at a craft fair. Don’t be afraid to move things around if you notice some areas are not getting noticed.
- Offer products across a wide price range. A single print sale has brought more than a few customers back to purchase the original wool art piece from me.
- Try to identify your target market and aim your advertising at the channels that they would be most likely to use.
- Put extra effort into providing large clear pricing information on every item to save unnecessary handling and moving around of your display by visitors.
If you are a UK based designer maker and wish to find out more about our makers directory and premium portfolio membership, please visit http://ukhandmade.co.uk/directory